Killing two birds with one stone is a common expression, albeit a violent one, but it is seldom used because being able to accomplish two goals with one action is not so easy. A group of teenage girls from Pune, however, have managed to do just that and improve many people's lives in the process.
The Project Amara is the brainchild of five teenagers - Surabhee Arjunwadkar, Anjali Dalmia, Sayuri Deokar, Aahana Mehta and Reva Patwardhan- to spread awareness about menstruation and eco-friendly sanitary products that help not only the women but also the environment. Three years down the line, these brave young girls, who were brought together by circumstance, coincidence and a passion for women empowerment and the environment, visit societies, colleges, schools, basthis (urban slum areas) and villages in and around Pune to spread their message.
Since 2018, Amara has reached out to over 1000 women and today, the project is a growing network of passionate individuals contributing to the cause by switching to sustainable products and conducting sessions in their communities.
"Our goal isn't necessarily to force the women to change or anything like that as we believe that it is their choice. Our goal is mostly to raise awareness and to reduce the amount of garbage," Anjali Dalmia, one of the founders, told Newskarnataka.com.
The girls conduct sessions for small groups of women, sometimes women and men, in order to maintain an optimal level of comfort to allow for a free flow of discussion. During these sessions, the women are given a break down of sanitary napkins and are told about the chemicals they contain and the implications on their health and the environment. "We also talk about the amount of garbage created by the use of sanitary napkins, diseases like PCOD and yeast infection, the anatomy of the female body and alternative menstrual products like cloth pads, period panties, bio-degradable sanitary napkins and menstrual cups, how to use these products," said Anjali.
The women are also shown the products so that they can hold them, fold and see how they work.
Apart from the sessions, the girls also provide the women with a support system in case any of them are interested in using the products. "We stay in contact with them. They can call us at any time and ask us questions so that they don't feel that they are alone while they are using the products," she added.
Asked how the different women react to the sessions and sanitary products Anjali said that, to their surprise, the women from the village were found to be more open to the alternative products that the city women.
Many young girls as well as middle aged women have now turned to menstrual cups thanks to the awareness spread by The Project Amara.
Busting period myths
The girls also do a lot of myth-busting as part of their project, one major myth being that sustainable menstrual products are more expensive than sanitary napkins. The girls found that, while one sanitary napkin can cost anywhere from Rs 7 to Rs 10, it adds up to nearly Rs 60,000 to Rs 80,000 for the duration of menstruation till menopause. A menstrual cup, on the other hand, can cost between Rs 600 to Rs 1,500 and can be used for around seven years. This adds up to a total expenditure of Rs 8,000 to 10,000 till menopause.
Another myth that the girls came across is that of the hymen, one that every girl on earth has heard. According to the myth, if the hymen is broken it means that the girl is not a virgin. This is far from the truth as the hymen can be broken at any time during a girl's life either due to physical activity or by simply riding a bicycle or a scooter.
Before the girls started the project, it took them six months to be able to properly use a menstruation cup. They faced challenges like pain, sizes etc and realised that there was no one to help them with this.
Another challenge they faced was that the gynaecologists that they approached had no idea about menstruation cups or the other alternatives. They then resorted to reading up on papers by gynaecologists from other countries.
Not all of the girls are native Hindi and Marathi speakers and taking sessions for the natives of the region was a little difficult. Now, however, the five have a good grasp of the languages and converse fluently with the women.
Considering that the five are very young, not many people took them seriously and questioned their knowledge on the topic.
Even when it came to finding out the perfect product, the girls had to spend months testing the products themselves to find out which ones are the best. They now buy the products from the manufacturers in bulk and then sell them at the same price to those who want them or direct them to the product online if the women want to purchase them themselves.
Various sustainable menstrual products
Bio-degradable pads/tampons: These are made from a combination of corn starch, bamboo fibres and organic cotton. They are used the same way as the normal pads and tampons and for the same duration.
Cloth pads: As the name suggests, these are made from cloth and can be washed and reused. If properly cleaned, dried in the sun and used on a rotational basis, these can be used for up to two years. Some of these pads come with a PUL layer that prevents leakage.
Menstrual cups: This is a bell-shaped structure which is to be inserted into the vagina and sits around the cervix. It collects blood instead of absorbing it and is to be emptied regularly. It is made from medical grade silicone and can be reused for five to seven years.
Period panties: These are to be used as an add-on with the above products. They are similar to normal underwear, except that they prevent leakage.
History of The Project Amara
Amara means 'immortal' in Sanskrit, 'eternal' in German, 'peaceful' in Mongolian, 'eternal beauty' in African, 'tranquil' in Tamil, 'unfading' in Greek, 'grace' in Nigerian and 'imperishable' in Spanish. The name was chosen because the girls felt that 'Amara' beautifully encompassed the female body and menstruation.
The Project Amara was started by five teenagers - Surabhee Arjunwadkar, Anjali Dalmia, Sayuri Deokar, Aahana Mehta and Reva Patwardhan - when they were in the 11th standard at the DriveChange Learning and Resource Centre (DLRC), Pune. Their syllabus had a part called the social impact project, for which the girls came up with The Project Amara to spread awareness about menstruation and eco-friendly sanitary products that help not only the women but also the environment.
Their very first session was with the eighth standard students of their school.
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